He reaches for her hand, brings it to rest on his lap.
She's faintly shivering, but that's only a sliver of why he does it; the way her bony knuckles carve deep into the cushioned portions of his palms, as he gently presses on her fingers, a welcome physical reminder of how her smile, sweet but the kind that could have been offered anyone else, had sharply bitten into his heart earlier that evening, when he had placed his jacket over her shoulders.
He wants to feel it again, her teeth around his lifeline. Every single drop of alcohol he's consumed between her "goodbye" and her "hello, S-sam" has not managed to leave half as scarring a burn. He realizes he wants to find a way to make her stutter his name again. He recalls she used to inhale it whenever he'd kiss her, speak it inwards as if attempting to swallow him whole.
She glances at him for only a brief second, before she nods "Much. Thank you." and he loses her eyes to the orchestra again.
The music is growing thunderous and, if Sam remembers it right, they're gearing up to the fireworks part of the show. He fidgets in his seat, careful not to cause too considerable a ruckus that she might pull her hand away.
"It was nice of Frasier to suggest we come." he says, only to discover he can barely hear his own voice.
Sam registers the way his shadow drapes over her cheek and down to her collar as he leans over. Her perfume muddles his senses, the very same way it had but a few days ago, when he had easily parted her lips with his tongue and found a six-month worth relief in the depths of her mouth. He still resents her deceit- calling out Frasier's name to spite him, all the while aware that he had made her privy to his longing only to have her crush him with her smarter-than-Sam perfected technique. He promised himself he would get back at her one day. One day, but not today.
"I said 'you're welcome'." he expertly grazes his lip against her ear, makes it feel like a fluke.
It seems she's going to put some distance between them, but Diane turns toward him, placing the tip of her nose only a few inches from his own. Sam feels both his hands grow slowly cooler around her warm one on his knees as she announces, "Your favorite part", like she used to say 'I love you'.
He is entranced by the time the first of the fireworks explode right above his head, but there's no movement at the base of his neck. She really has no idea.
It was one year ago that Diane had first invited him to the Boston Pops. One year to this day when he'd found himself mesmerized by the reflection of the twinkling lights in her blue eyes, wide like a child's staring up at a magic trick. He had since sold her on the idea that he was nuts about a good fireworks show, too afraid to say it was she he was nuts about, continually grasping for detours and escape routes around her heart, careful not to veer too far from it, but keeping the recommended safety distance.
As she'd done the year before, Diane is now closing her eyes and almost imperceptibly swaying her head from side to side. He feels her fingers move inside of his own. She folds them to wrap around the back of his hand and Sam dares to freely stare at her, decides the magic trick happening at eye level to be far more enticing than the one keeping thousands of necks outstretched and uncomfortable.
Once the concert is over, he walks Diane back to the bar. He had suggested he take her home instead, yet she'd refused. Said she would miss Frasier too much, alone in her apartment. Sam had done his best not to impulse react, unsure as to whether she had meant every word, or if she had meant to say exactly their opposite.
They reach the top of the stairs to Cheers, and he can anticipate the meaning the sound of her heels will hurl back at him as he'll watch her fall away, out of his reach. Glaringly aware he'll see himself tumble in after her, a bounce in his step, like he's not angry or disappointed by any of it.
"This was nice." he says, and his hand goes into his pocket to keep from reaching out for the one she's carelessly let fall to her side, that has accidentally brushed the standing hair on his forearm between his wrist and his rolled up sleeve.
"It was." He watches her features for something more, something hidden, too wary to let his eyes dig further. Finding nothing would be worse than not searching at all. Diane's still looking at him like nothing could faze her.
"I'd say we should do it again sometime, but Frasier might not be too keen to lend you to temptation twice." he wants to kick himself for not holding his tongue on that jab as soon as he lets it slip. They're still standing at the top of the stairs. Her foot has yet to drop a single inch toward their goodnight.
He's not ready.
"Frasier knows he has nothing to worry about." her chin is slowly lifting into that holier than thou position. He winces. Diane prattles on "Though I can't phantom what you and I would find to do together aside from this. We never could think of anything then."
He finds the word is a poor substitute for what then really had been. Higher now, her nose is almost pointing towards the sky.
Not. Quite. Yet.
"Hey, we found a few interesting things to do when we were together. Remember board game night?"
"Ah, yes." she's staring at her shoes, and Sam instinctively drops his shoulders to try and gauge the expression on her face that the slab of grey concrete refuses to reflect back at him. She adds, "When you would try to convince me there really is a version of strip-poker that applies to every single game known to man. I distinctly remember the one time you came up with the roll-the-dice-off-your-tongue-and-into-an-ashtray game. I don't know how I let you rope me into that one, I was never going to win."
He wants to say it's because she was okay with losing then, when him winning meant she'd get him to touch her faster. Instead, he says "I still don't understand how someone can not own a single ashtray."
"I don't smoke." she declares, as if explaining her very existence, and that of every living thing.
"Neither do I, and I own at least three. Don't you ever entertain?"
Provocative: "Entertain what?"
Sam hears the double entendre, lets her think it goes straight over his head, like so many of the things she says. Said. Says.
His silence propels her inches forward, and she adjusts her red hat as the first smack of her shoe on the step below them rings in his ears. She follows up with "Needless to say, we should have played that game at your place."
"No, we shouldn't." her brow furrows and he lets the words hang from an invisible string between the two them, eyes locked on her mouth, rid of shame. Like he's going to claim it. He feels Diane's anticipation momentarily warm up the cool air. She's breathing like her ashtray-owning theory is nonsense, and she's actually a chainsmoker.
Sam wants to dig his fingers out of his pocket and hand her her ass on a silver tray. He's fairly sure, from the look in her eyes and the slow, gradual parting of her lips, that she'd let him kiss her if he tried. He's tempted. There's a bet currently taking place in his mind- says if he kisses her now, she'll call out the right name this time. Swallow it with a taste of him, just like she used to. But he says, "Whatever we decide to do next, if we do find something, it'll be my treat."
"You know I didn't pay for this." she reminds him, and he pushes away the looming thought of the person who did. Keeps it at bay until they're inside.
"True. In that case, you'll pay for the next one."
He wills Diane to say something. Anything that will keep the banter going. Something that will be Diane, still trying to win even if she'd be happy to lose. Like board game night. He wishes she would suggest they roll dice to decide who pays for the hypothetical next time, so that Sam might, in fact, kiss her, kiss her hard, before he'll allow gravity to help her down another step.
She simply smiles, though. That smile she wears so often, when he says something she deems absurd and fit for a world she refuses to find a door to.
And so Sam trails down the stairs after her, and back into the bar that daily sees them pour and serve drinks, respectively. The same bar that, these days, witnesses her walking off and up those same steps, into someone else's comforting arms. The bar that secretly feels for Sam, whistling his way home with well-practiced, almost all-convincing indifference.
He knows their dance will be a different one as soon as they cross the familiar threshold. In front of everyone, he'll save face by uttering some mindless remark about the evening and she'll respond in kind, bringing them to stand on the proverbial marks on the floor they must strictly adhere to. For now.
Sam suspects the dice are waiting to be rolled again, has a pretty strong feeling they will be. They'll slip straight off her very tongue, if he can help it. And she'll willingly lose again, for want of an ashtray.